Recent events concerning Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has a marginal presence now, have established beyond doubt that India’s largest political party either lacks political acumen or is incapable of innovative thinking on issues raised over the Constitution. The inability of the party to outwit Mulayam Singh Yadav even during his weakest moment clearly shows that there is no political management and those entrusted with the task of handling such sensitive affairs continue to let the Congress president down repeatedly.
One can argue that a genuine miscalculation can happen but when this kind of thing happens repeatedly, there is certainly cause for concern. A serious faux pas on the issue of the office of profit had almost ended the political career of Sonia Gandhi last year and had she not taken things in her own hands, the consequences would have been disastrous. The way Bihar was handled by the party and now the manner in which Maharashtra civic polls have resulted in political embarrassment for the ruling combine are just a few examples.
More recently, the way the party went about pushing its election strategy and campaign in Punjab and Uttarakhand showed that there was a death wish which seemed to be influencing decisions. There was nothing that the party did not do in these states to ensure certain defeat. If the results turn out to be different, the credit will go to the wisdom of the people of these two states and not to those who were managing the affairs.
However, in UP, there is unanimity that the Congress has ended up with egg on its face. It was obvious from the beginning that the party had no gameplan in place and it was being amateurish, knowing fully well that the complexity of the situation demanded a foolproof blueprint to be executed without delay. When any matter concerns the likes of politically astute and grassroots-oriented players like Yadav, there is no scope of giving any rope. It is common sense that the matter should have been dealt with a ‘jhatka’ and not ‘halal’. Indira Gandhi, who has no equal in Indian politics, never allowed her opponents to get away when they were on her radar. It was because her advisors never let her down.
In this case, the Congress was so obsessed with imposition of President’s Rule that it failed to see the need for timely consultation with its own allies. It also failed to come up with a contingency plan as a back-up. In fact, an option available for the party and its government at the Centre could have been to dismiss the UP government within 24 hours of the Supreme Court judgment, questioning the legality of its formation. Yadav could have been asked to continue as caretaker CM. Instead of only talking about President’s Rule, the Governor should have been asked by the Centre to explore if anyone within the present house was capable of forming the government without engineering defections.
After this failed, President’s Rule could have been the best and only option. The dismissal could have been achieved much before the Election Commission curiously stepped in to declare a seven-phase poll much to the relief of Yadav and everyone else except the Congress. Many in the Congress are already questioning the Election Commission’s urgency in declaring UP polls, given that the CEC, sometime ago, had talked about the need to distribute voter IDs in UP. Insinuations are being made against the CEC who many are accusing of toeing the BJP line (in Punjab, Uttarakhand and now UP). But politicians must remember that no purpose is ever served by lowering the credibility of statutory institutions. Allegations of some in the Congress against Gopalaswami being a BJP man are as petty and frivolous as those by the BJP claiming that Navin Chawla is close to the Congress. Institutions like the Election Commission must be left alone.
In UP, if the Congress had any distinct plan, it was certainly unable to deliver. Several prominent leaders had reduced visibility all along and refused to speak on record allowing Salman Khurshid and Kapil Sibal to do all the talking. It appeared that some in the party wanted the occasion to be used to put down both Salman and Sibal.
It was also obvious that UPA allies, like Ajit Singh who could be a prime player in the run-up to the polls, were kept in the dark on most matters. If there was a plan to impose President’s Rule, why had no one been selected to go to UP as Governor during the period? TV Rajeshwar, a former IB director, is not really up to handling sensitive political matters. In anticipation of its moves, the party again failed to send someone like P Chidambaram to explain the ground reality to the President and prepare him for President’s Rule.
In the last assembly polls, the Congress, contesting all 400 odd seats, had lost its deposit in over 320 seats. Ajit Singh contested far lesser seats than the Congress but ended up getting more votes than that party. Therefore, the Congress would do well to have an alliance with Ajit, Jan Morcha etc, in place right now. If the alliance gets even 70 to 80 seats in a chunk, it shall have a major say in the formation of the next government. The way things are being handled, it gives an impression that by pushing Rahul Gandhi to the centrestage, a section in the Congress wants to limit him to UP, whereas in the Congress’s view, he should be looking at the entire country.
In the end, it will require a lot of effort now for the Congress to haul itself back in the fray. The Congress leadership needs to be realistic. Since there is no dearth of talent in the party, a number of aides responsible for repeated lapses must be held accountable and shown their place. Between us.